The Queen of Conservation

The queen in front of her treasure

The queen in front of her treasure

Some people are excited when their favorite baseball team wins; others become excited when they go to their favorite place to eat. I am excited when, by chance, I come upon a person who is deeply passionate about conserving resources. The adrenaline began to rush as I figured out what I was riding by as we entered Ann Arbor; a consignment shop where people can buy already used items cheaply. I leaped off the bike and went inside to talk with people who worked there and to ask if I could approach a customer to ask some questions. “Sure, go right ahead. You might get some long-winded answers though,” was the response. Usually my informal interviews take no more than fifteen minutes so I did not take her seriously.
I saw a woman occupied with maneuvering some chairs into her Mercedes, so I waited to approach her. Once she turned around I asked her if she had a couple of minutes to talk about Treasure Mart, why she shops there, and how she finds using consignment items. She then spent the next fifty minutes explaining what she does to reduce her waste stream.
Her name is Swanna, a resident of Ann Arbor whose conservation efforts begin with her work. Swanna is a home-stager which means she furnishes empty houses that are on the market, and to do so comes to the Treasure Mart and Ann Arbor’s Reuse Center (similar to Vermont’s ReStore). Rather than buying new items, she chooses to buy “the real thing” because used stuff still has meaning. She sees value in them beyond the price tag, and would rather see things with life left in them be used rather than sent to the landfill. Swanna asked the rhetorical question, “Why should we pay more money to produce new things when perfectly good ones are already made and available for a lesser price?” At Swanna’s own home her recycling is considerably larger than her garbage. This has something to do with her unwillingness to put things into the trash. Instead she would rather make art out of ‘garbage’. She also volunteers at the teen center in town, where kids use materials she gathers to make centerpieces for tables and other decorations. While looking for ways to reduce the center’s waste during board meetings, it was decided to use rented ceramic, reusable plates instead of paper plates. I was impressed at the decision, and was curious if they also save money by doing it. “Is it cheaper?” I asked. She paused, looked over the top of her no-frame glasses and said in the most serious tone I heard her use. “It’s righter.” It might seem like a small step but the success of sustainability depends on our commitment to the details of our routine lives. Her ethical devotion was genuine and moving. I also realized I might be taking up too much of Swanna’s time when Treasure Mart closed during our conversation. I took a photo before she drove away, leaving me in between piles of tables, lamps, mirrors, and desks, all one step closer to serving their purpose once again.


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August 2009
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